The story of chocolate, as far back as we know it, begins with the discovery of America. Until 1492, the Old World knew nothing at all about the delicious and stimulating flavor that was to become the favorite of millions.

The Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella got its first look at the principal ingredient of chocolate when Columbus returned in triumph from America and laid before the Spanish throne a treasure trove of many strange and wonderful things. Click here

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Andalucian cuisine a guide

Undoubtedly one of Spain's most culinary rich regions, Andalusia is an area famed for its cuisine and its culture of food. Much like the rest of Spain, food is an important part of social life; here the meal is about a lot more than simply eating. Andalusia is also the home of one of Spain's favourite exports; tapas. Restaurants can now be found in most major cities around the world, but to taste the original you should head to Seville. Also the region is the world's largest producer of olive oil with some of the finest in the world being produced in Andalusia's olive groves. As you would expect, olive oil is the basis for lots of the region's cooking and accompanies many of the dishes.

The diversity throughout different areas of the region is huge, a myriad of different influences have shaped the regions gastronomy over the past centuries as well as its geographical diversity. The Moorish legacy still remains strong and can be seen especially in the sweets and desserts of the region, many of which are flavoured with aniseed, cinnamon, almonds and honey. Blessed with a superb climate the region has a year round growing season meaning that fruit and vegetables can be picked locally, even in winter.

Locally grown asparagus and avocados are regarded as some of the best in the world and there's never a shortage of fresh produce to add weight to regional menus. Probably the most famous dish in Andalusia is "Gazpacho"; a chilled soup made from tomatoes and other vegetables and one that has been copied the world over. In the stifling heat of an Andalusian summer, "Gazpacho" is a very refreshing lunch dish or starter and shouldn't be missed by those visiting the area. Coastal areas of Andalusia tend still to be dominated by seafood with many options for sampling the bounty of the Mediterranean. "Pesca'ito frito", a regional favourite, is a variety of fish fried together in olive oil and is perfect to display the broad range of fish on offer. Beach-side restaurants, locally known as "Chirengitas", are excellent ways to sample local seafood with more emphasis being put on fresh cooked produce than comfort, pomp and service.

These informal eateries serve up a massive variety of dishes from baby squid in garlic to fresh barbequed sardines (usually cooked on a bamboo spit) and really constitute fantastic value for money. For those looking for finer dining then cities like Malaga and Seville boast no shortage of gourmet restaurants, and many have excellent reputations throughout Spain. Inland regions tend to lean more towards poultry, game and, the regions favourite meat, pork. Indeed the pig is a highly lauded animal in Andalusia whether cooked fresh to make dishes such as meat balls in almond sauce and pork loins in orange and sherry, or whether cured to make sausages and "Jamon Serrano". Indeed the region is home to a special breed of pig known as the "Iberico" or, more colloquially, the "pata negra" (literally "black foot", denoting the pigs black hooves). This small, brown pig is used to make some of the finest cured hams in the world - the town of Jabugo is reputed to produce the very best - the flavour of the ham is down to the strict diet of acorns which is administered to the pig, and this particular part of the Huelva region has the perfect micro-climate for sustaining oak trees.

Andalusia, as mentioned above, also utilises the pig for making sausages, a foodstuff intrinsically linked with Spain's cuisine. The "cana de lomo" is a smoked sausage made with tripe and the "morçon" is made with trimmings of pig shin and both serve as excellent examples of the many regional variations that are produced. However it's not all pork; deer and wild boar can be found in Cordoba and the Guadalquivir region around Seville provides the area with excellent duck, often cooked with Seville onions and widely eaten throughout the city. It is this diversity in one of Spain's largest provinces that make it such a rich culinary region and a real must for food lovers. .

By: Mike McDougall


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